Starkey: British don't know how to party

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As preparations for the Queen's 50th jubilee fail to ignite enthusiasm across the nation, leading historian Dr David Starkey suggested yesterday that Britons have simply forgotten how to party.

Dr Starkey, a broadcaster and lecturer at the London School of Economics, believes that changes in the fabric of British communities have dealt a serious blow to plans for the Golden Jubilee celebrations.

"I think the British have lost the habit of proper partying," said Dr Starkey. "There have been enormous social changes since the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977, especially in terms of communities. We can't pretend that the world of 2002 is the world of 25 years ago. Working class culture is dead, and with it the traditional 'Knees-up Mother Brown' attitude.

"The Government must take the lead with the celebrations. They need to say that they regard the Jubilee as important and take the initiative. The Golden Jubilee is a one-off occasion and they should underwrite it."

Public zeal for the anniversary has been dealt a further blow by local authority bureaucracy hampering plans for street parties.

Only 300 applications for street parties have been lodged, compared to 12,000 in 1977. The cost of closing roads and the need for parties to have public liability insurance have been cited as two of the main reasons for this.

Some authorities are threatening to charge streets up to £800 to impose traffic restrictions, and insurance companies want £150 premiums against liability risks.

However, experts, believe there are some deeper reasons for the general malaise surrounding the Jubilee.

Lord Blake, the constitutional historian and Royal biographer echoed many of Dr Starkey's sentiments. "If there isn't a great demonstration of support it doesn't mean that the British people want a republic," he said. "It's just part of the changing world. People have got too many other things to think about these days and the fashion for such celebrations is going out."

Professor Carolyn Steedman of Warwick University, an expert on working-class and cultural history, explained: "It's not just to do with shifting attitudes to the monarchy. The whole idea of 'party', any kind of party, has changed.The street party has lost its magic. Fewer people live on what we would describe as streets, and there is much more movement."

Yesterday, Dick Caborn, the minister with responsibility for Golden Jubilee celebrations, urged councils to get round the obstacle of the local by-laws which are restricting street parties.

"Sheffield city council is exploring a solution to allow all the street parties to advertise their street closures in a single advert in the local newspaper and to have joint insurance cover. I would like other councils to do the same," said Mr Caborn.

In Whitehall, there is also irritation at the reports of the departure of Lord Levene of Portsoken, who was put in charge of the Jubilee events and fund raising, and whose resignation sparked reports that it was going to be a flop.

But there has been praise for Lord Sterling, the shipping magnate, who, since taking over, has raised £4.5m for the Golden Jubilee.

What leading PR advisers would tell the Queen

Julia Hobsbawm, chief executive of HMC

Specialises in left-wing and ethical clients.

The public is much more openly ambivalent about the monarchy than in 1977. The Queen has got to celebrate her public rather than expect her public to celebrate her, and that should be the focus of the £4m-odd celebration fund. Make every attempt to steer attention away from the idea that the public has to pay.

Max Clifford, head of Max Clifford Associates

Specialises in kiss-and-tells and other tabloid fare.

The Queen should link her Jubilee celebrations to a tribute to Princess Diana – it would be wonderful PR. It's also a chance to celebrate all that's wonderful about Great Britain. And she should put a children's charity appeal at the heart of the Jubilee, donating a million pounds of her own money to start it off.

Mark Borkowski, managing director, Borkowski PR

Has corporate, consumer and celebrity clients, with a reputation for "the stunt".

Those in charge are getting it right. The problem is that Buckingham Palace is damned if it does something and damned if it doesn't. Lots of people outside the media are into this idea of beacons and street parties. It worked in 1977 and I think it's a question of "don't fix it".

Tom Watson, chairman of the Public Relations Consultants Association

Specialises in blue-chip clients.

I would treat it as the biggest tourism promotion opportunity the UK has had for many years. That's really important in the aftermath of 11 September and the general downturn in tourism. As for the Royal Family, they have to get out and see a heck of a lot of people and not just focus on big formal events.